For years, many young adults have expressed troubles with “adulting,” or accomplishing the myriad of responsibilities that come as a young person strikes out on their own. As Executive Director of the San Marcos Promise, Lisa Stout and her team are attempting to bridge the gap by coaching in practical life skills, career pathways, financial planning, and more.
A high school counselor for almost 20 years, Stout’s large caseload caused her time to be limited with most students. With the San Marcos Promise program, she’s happy to be able to “really help students with one-on-one future planning.”
The San Marcos Promise started out in 2014 as a scholarship program providing scholarships to students in the San Marcos School District who attend California State University, San Marcos. In 2019, the organization shifted to providing future planning programs, trying to serve the needs of all students, with a specific focus on low- and moderate-income students, regardless of their continued education choices.
“We wanted to help students in all paths, to provide some direction after high school,” said Stout. “We’re kind of flipping the script. We want students to see the bigger picture, think about their strengths and interests, look at possible careers first, and then figure out what education is needed to get there.”
Finding a Career Pathway
They do this through the SuperStrong®, an interest inventory to heighten a student’s understanding of their own interests and work style. A test reveals a student’s RIASEC code (Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, or Conventional). Then they are presented possible career opportunities, and a career coach helps explain the results.
Each high school in the San Marcos School district has a Career Coach through San Marcos Promise, and Roy Huerta is the coach at San Marcos High School. Available year-round, he helps students (and even alumni) investigate high-demand careers, determine salary ranges, and more. Once they explore the data surrounding a career, then they determine the training they would need.
Not every career requires a four-year degree, and there are many students who opt to go straight into the workforce. That is how this year’s new program, Promise 360, was born.
“There weren’t any programs to focus on those students,” said Stout. “We want them to feel good about their choice to go right into the workforce but also get them set up in a career where there are benefits, room for growth, and a livable wage.”
Hands-on Job Application Training
Along with this coaching, Huerta uses Career Edge to help students build resumes, create cover letters, complete mock job applications, and participate in practice interviews.
“We’ve made it really easy for students to create a resume. Career Edge breaks it down into steps so it’s not overwhelming,” said Huerta. “If you walk in with a resume, and most of your peers don’t have one, you’re already set apart.”
San Marcos Promise posts a job board and hopes to reach more companies with their program information so they can reach out when they have job opportunities for students. Students also have access to a “Career Closet” of donated gently-used professional clothing so they can choose an outfit to keep.
“Most high school students don’t have a resume, haven’t done a mock interview, and no one has told them how to dress professionally. We want our students to have a reputation of being prepared and showing up professionally,” said Stout.
Financial planning is also a huge part of the San Marcos Promise’s programming. They offer a monthly Money Matters skill shop where students can learn about opening financial accounts, credit cards, budgeting, investing, funding education, and leasing versus buying housing and vehicles. They also provide part-time financial aid coaches at each of the high schools to help students fill out their FAFSA/CAADA and explain what financial aid is available to them.
“Some students think that since they’re not going to a 4-year college financial aid doesn’t count for them, but it does. You can get a certificate program. You can use it for cosmetology school. They just don’t know that, so we’re trying to inform them,” said Stout.
Future Centers & Beyond
Most of this programming occurs in the Future Centers at each high school in the district (San Marcos, Mission Hills, and Twin Oaks), which were officially opened in the Spring of 2022. A group of students interested in architectural design at each high school worked with an architect parent volunteer to help them design the space and then executed a capital campaign to come up with the funding to make it happen.
Stout also talked about the need for providing experiences and opportunities to connect with professionals in the community. “Students need to see what exists and have the opportunity to build social capital.”
Off-campus, the San Marcos Promise organizes Career Expeditions, or job shadowing field trips, at various job sites throughout North County. They also have Connect to Careers events where students can network with between 5-25 professionals in careers that interest them. Individually, they set students up with Experienceships, or a shorter version of an internship, designed to provide students exposure to a possible career.
“It doesn’t have to be a full semester thing – it can be a 2-hour shadow. Students may find out ‘I’m intrigued and want to learn more’ or ‘This is not what I thought it was’ and that’s enough,” said Stout.
Directing a Nonprofit
As a testament to all the work they are doing to help students reach their maximum potential, the San Marcos Promise was named as the first 2023 Community-Based Organization of the Year from the San Diego County Office of Education.
They do a lot with such a small staff – 6 full-time and 2 part-time employees – so Stout ends up wearing a lot of hats. A typical day can range from working in a Future Center to planning an event, to meeting potential investors. As one of the biggest challenges to many nonprofits is funding, that is where Stout has been focusing more of her time as of late.
“We have 6,700 high school students in this district, each with unique needs and goals for their future,” said Stout. “We’re doing a lot with what we have, but if we had more, we could help more.”
One of the biggest takeaways that Stout has from her time as executive director, is “there are so many people who want to help, but what is lacking is the connection for someone to be the bridge. We know the counselors need help bringing in resources for the students. We know that businesses need employees, and they want to get into the schools and help.” In addition to all that they do to help students, San Marcos Promise wants to be that bridge.
To get more involved with the San Marcos Promise, visit their website here.
Read the story covering Matthew Sanford, Economic Development Manager for the City of Carlsbad here for more content.
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About the Author
Caitlyn Canby loves to discover and share people’s stories. She has her bachelor’s degree in Communications, Print Journalism with over 8 years of journalism experience. An Escondido native, she just moved back from Catalina Island to North County with her husband and two children to the town of Fallbrook. Caitlyn enjoys collaborating on projects as Marketing and Events Coordinator at SDNEDC, traveling, and exploring new restaurants, venues, experiences, and cultures.